Part 10 Fact five: the tomb was empty

Was the Resurrection a Historical Event? Part 10

Fact # 5: Jesus’ tomb was empty

Again an overwhelming majority of scholars, both liberal and conservative believe the empty tomb is a historical fact (75%)[1].  Here are 3 key reasons:

  1. The Jerusalem factor – Jesus was publicly executed and buried in Jerusalem and the resurrection is proclaimed in the same city.  Why is this important?  Luke records in the book of Acts, detailed descriptions of the disciples making bold proclamations that Jesus had risen from the dead weeks after the event. If they were telling a lie and if the body was still in the tomb, this would have been a great mistake.  To go right back to Jerusalem, the place where people could verify if the tomb was empty, was simply lunacy unless it was true.  Their preaching the resurrection immediately in the same city adds to the historical verification of the truth of the empty tomb.
  2. Testimony of the women – Women made the initial discovery of the empty tomb.  Matthew 28:1-5.  “After the Sabbath…Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb…” The fact that the women were the first people to see the empty tomb was recorded in all 4 Gospels.  What’s so important about that?  Women during this time period had extremely low social status.  In fact, in a court of law a woman's testimony was not even accepted.  Yet not only are women the first to discover the empty tomb, they are portrayed as courageous.   The male disciples, however, are portrayed as cowards.  Matthew 26:56 “…Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.” If the writers wanted to create a credible legend about Jesus, men should have been recorded as the ones discovering the empty tomb and portrayed as courageous, not cowards!  Women finding the tomb empty could only damage the credibility of the account and risk rejection.  Only writers recording the truth would make women the heroes.  Again we see an example of embarrassment historians take seriously.
  3. Enemy attestation – Essentially, what did the skeptics at the time say?  The Roman guards go to the priests to tell what happened and report the tomb was empty.  Knowing that word would spread about the missing body, the chief priests made up a story how the disciples stole the body.  This story is reported not only by Matthew but also by early church fathers, Justin Martyr and Tertullian.  Why did the priests tell this story?  Why didn't they just produce the body and end the resurrection rumor once and for all?  For the simple reason there was no body to produce.  Their creating this story helps to confirm the tomb was empty.

When you take into account the disciples preached the resurrection in the very place Jesus was buried, the testimony of courageous women finding the tomb empty, and the enemies of Jesus making up an empty tomb story all make a cumulative case that the tomb was empty.

Go to part 11 here


[1] Strobel, Lee, “The Case for the Real Jesus,” Zondervan, 2007 p. 123

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Vinny February 16, 2010, 11:59 pm

    In Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying?, Gary Habermas said that their was a three to one ratio of moderate conservative to skeptical publications in his survey. That means that 75% of his sample was moderate conservative Christians. What that suggests to me is that an overwhelming majority of Christian scholars believe that the tomb was empty and very few skeptical scholars think so.

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